Gender based discrimination against the girl child is common phenomenon worldwide and India is no better where it is visible in all sections of society in some form or other. Gender equality and women empowerment despite being important components of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are still a mirage. Education of the girl child is an important social indicator to measure the status of gender equality in India.
According to 2011 census
Female literacy stands at 65% to 83% of male literacy rate.
In Bihar, the female literacy stands at 51.5%, the lowest in the country.
Talking of districts, Kishanganj, where Azad India Foundation is working, the female literacy is just 46.8 (Census 2011). It is lower among the marginalized communities and minorities. The bright side is that the Bihar government data (Education Dept. 2016-17) shows Kishanganj among the good performing districts on the enrollment of girls in school. But the same data (UDISE 2016-17) shows Kishanganj among the very low performing districts on dropout of girls in schools when the girls reach secondary classes. Sadly, there is no official data on the quantum of girls in higher education in Kishanganj.
The situation of drop out of girls from the rural and marginalized sections of society continues to be severe. Usually availability of toilets and running water in government schools are considered key strategies for ensuring girls attendance and retention but interestingly the Bihar Education Dept. data (2016-17) shows that 92% of government schools in Kishanganj have functional girls toilets and 89.5% schools have drinking water facilities. This clearly indicates that the reason for the high drop out rate of girls in Kishanganj lies elsewhere.
Once the girl crosses the primary level and sets out to complete her middle and secondary schooling there are a number of socio-economic factors which act as barriers making access to education difficult for her. Poverty and reluctance of parents to educate the girls over boys are major deterrents to girls' education. The distances of schools from home combined with parent’s insistence on learning household skills for the marriage market on crossing puberty, prevents girls especially in the rural areas from seeking secondary education.
The Union Government's emphasis on education is limited which is reflected on the percentage of expenditure on education in the budget allocation. The Government is only spending 2.7% of GDP on education. This represents a big drop from 2012-13, when education expenditure was 3.1% of GDP and remains significantly far from the 2015 Incheon Declaration and Kothari Commission recommendations of allocating at least 6% of GDP to education.
The benefits of educating a girl child are manifold and can contribute to a healthy and progressive society. Education, particularly formal secondary education, is the most effective way to develop the skills needed for work and life. As such, it is widely considered one of the best investments to expand prospects of skilled and adequately paid employment. Those with access to quality upper secondary education are significantly less likely, as compared workers with lower secondary education, to be in vulnerable employment or to in informal work with no contract or social benefits. Quality education can counteract the social factors that hinder women's labor market participation. Education increases women's wages later in life by 15- 25%. 1% increase in female education raises the average level of GDP by 0.37%.
Increased allotment of funds into providing free secondary education for everyone will encourage parents to allow girls to partake this free education allowing more and more girls to find opportunity for employment and a sense of empowerment. And thereby will ensure a revolution where, as each women rises she will inspire a whole village, a society, the nation and ultimately the world. Let stand up for our girls!